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In search ranking, context is everything

Google is very good nowadays at giving us data about where we appeared on its search results pages. In Google Search Console, we can see our ‘average position’ for specific searches, even filtered by specific locations. For our adverts, Google Ads gives us similar data.

But we need to be careful, particularly with natural search results. Some pages look very different to others. It’s quite possible to be ‘number 1’ for a search term – which seems great – but actually appear quite insignificant under a stack of adverts, Shopping results and local maps. In 2018, it’s rare for the top natural search result to be the first thing on a results page unless the search is lengthy and/or quite obscure. Sometimes you have to scroll down to find the top natural result!

So the context of the report data is everything. If you find that you’re averaging ‘1.0’ for one search, and ‘3.0’ for another, be careful in interpreting that. Confusion can arise when you notice that the ‘1.0’ search term has a 5% clickthrough rate and the ‘3.0’ has 15%. Your initial inclination might be that the ‘1.0’ search term result isn’t very attractive and might need some work, if the lower-averaging one gets such a higher clickthrough rate. However, its 5% might be pretty decent, if you have to scroll down a screen or more to see it. Similarly, the ‘3.0’ result’s 15% might actually be disappointing if there are no ads or any other clutter on the page, and the two results above it aren’t very attractive either.

For ads, we’re now getting more help. Google has announced four new search ad position metrics which should help identify when the ads appeared as the very first item on the page, and in the ‘top block’ of ads. In a surprisingly high proportion of searches, ads only appear right at the bottom of the page, so a ‘1.0’ average could mean the ad still appeared below 10 natural search results and a whole lot more. The new reports could be useful.